By  on February 7, 2007

DALLAS — The mood at FashionCenterDallas got a lift from strong January retail sales, inspiring buyers to pick up extra spring merchandise as others invested in fall.

"The attitude is very positive in the specialty store sector, which is our lifeblood," Bill Winsor, president and chief executive officer of the Dallas Market Center Co., parent of FashionCenterDallas, said at the four-day market that ended Jan. 31. "January markets tend to tell you how the year is going to be, and I'm very hopeful it will be a good year in retail across both hard and soft goods."

It was the first show at FCD with the new Sunday to Wednesday schedule. Sales representatives were pleased with traffic, especially on Sunday, but buyers' opinions on the new calendar varied. Some said they wished more showrooms were open on Saturday, and several reps, including Michael Singer of Brad Hughes & Associates, said they planned to make Saturday a big day during the next market in March.

"We've seen just as many stores and also lots of new stores that opened recently, so it's nice to see the business growing," said Melanie Jennings, who manages the Johnny Was corporate showroom. "We're ahead of last January."

Denise Berman, a partner in Berman & Associates, which shows bridge collections such as Dominique de Sentino, said, "It's been fabulous, one of the best January markets ever. They're buying spring, transition and also into fall, which is very encouraging."

Dresses, tunics, novelty tops and matte jersey items remained popular, while tartans, knits with a twist and textured fabrics emerged as fall trends.

"Our dress business is huge and just keeps getting better," said John Maguire, dress buyer for Tootsies, a Houston three-unit retailer. "Five or 10 years ago, dresses were only for girly-girls, for weddings or lunch. Now they're hip. There's this Studio 54/Twiggy cute little beaded shift coming back and they're going to be huge. I loved that."

Among his favorite finds were Mandalay's silver beaded fish-scale plunge-neck cocktail dress, Nicole Miller's silver sequined shift with a jeweled neck and Marc Bouwer's beaded shift."January was surprisingly good with spring dresses," said Marla Ross, owner of Adelante Boutique in San Antonio. "My budget is up 10 percent."

Though she expressed concern that many of the silhouettes were too loose and blousey for her customers, Ross was pleased with Free People's bright tribal-print sportswear, Max Studio's aubergine matte jersey maxi dress and For Love & Liberty's novelty tops.

Linda Spaeth, sportswear and dress buyer for Balliet's in Oklahoma City, was looking for summer deliveries for Balliet's new branch at The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"Unlike the main store, our biggest selling season in Colorado is June, July and August," she said. "I wish there were a few more later deliveries, something past April 30, because it's a golf summer resort."

Spaeth picked up several new lines, including Pamela Ferrari's exclusive artistic prints, Junior Drake's printed silk dresses and Yansi Fugel's red-and-white striped tops over white linen shorts. She also praised Kay Unger's dresses, including a marigold gown with black lace trim.

With both the flagship and the seven-month-old branch exceeding plan, her budget was up.

Julie Kelly, owner of Pavilion in Tulsa, Okla., focused on accessories for immediate delivery, as well as May and June shipments of dresses and sportswear.

"Business has been good," she said. "We had a great fall and holiday, and we were doing fine in January until we got hit with five days of ice."

She ordered "lots of bags," including Big Buddha's red patent leather quilted tote and Lupe's metallic styles, as well as Barbara Lesser's shirred summer dress, Future Paradise's geometric-print shift and a rose-embroidered cotton voile blouse by JW Los Angeles.

"We're not doing nearly as embellished stuff in terms of glitz, but our customer is still enjoying embroidery," Kelly said.

Kari Kearns, owner of Carl & Barni in Houston, was rounding out her spring and summer buy with casual styles for the suburban moms shopping at her store.

"I'm still buying more dresses because they're new and fresh to me," she said. "My customer doesn't want the trapeze. It's too Mod. The Empire waist shows off the figure a little bit more."Linda Segal's Empire jersey dress fit the bill, she said, as did Junior Drake dresses.

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